Drake Democratic debate highlights and discussion thread

The second Democratic presidential debate kicks off in a few minutes at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium. Why Democratic National Committee leaders scheduled this event on a Saturday night is beyond me; but then, their whole approach to debates this year has been idiotic. I wonder how many politically-engaged Iowans who would normally tune in for a debate will watch the Iowa Hawkeyes football game against Minnesota tonight.

I’m not a fan of curtain-raisers such as lists of "things to watch for" or mistakes candidates might make. I will update this post later with thoughts on each contender’s performance.

Any comments about tonight’s debate or the Democratic presidential race generally are welcome in this thread. I enclose below the latest commercials Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been running in Iowa. The new 30-second Sanders spot mostly uses images and phrases pulled from his strong introductory commercial. Clinton’s ad-maker this year is putting out much better material than I remember from her 2007 Iowa caucus campaign. To my knowledge, Martin O’Malley has not aired any television commercials in Iowa yet, but the Generation Forward super-PAC has run at least one spot promoting his candidacy, which Bleeding Heartland posted here.

UPDATE: My first take on the debate is after the jump.

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The CNBC Republican debate really was that bad

One of the three CNBC panelists for the Republican presidential debate in Colorado made clear earlier in the day that he wasn’t looking for dry policy discussions.

“We’ve had fireworks up to this point. I think the fireworks will just be as big if not bigger,” [Carl] Quintanilla said in an interview. […]

“[W]e hopefully won’t need to go in there with a blow torch. The fires are going to get stoked and it is the moderators job to make sure those fires don’t die,” [Carl] Quintanilla said. “[T]he race is getting serious. This is about the economy, which is our wheel house, and our hope is this gives the candidates a different set of pitches at which to swing and I think that will, it will mark a turning point in the race one way or another.”

The biggest home runs on stage last night came when candidates swung at the debate moderators. For once, Republican whining about the "mainstream media" was mostly justified.

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First Democratic presidential debate discussion thread

In a few moments, five Democratic presidential candidates will take the stage in Las Vegas for their first televised debate. I wish the Democratic National Committee hadn’t stood in the way of scheduling more debates, starting this summer. Listening to DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz try to defend her stance in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer today, all I could think was, thank heaven for the "Big Blue Wall." We aren’t going to win elections on Wasserman-Schultz’s strategic skills, that’s for sure.

All of the candidates are under pressure tonight. Hillary Clinton wants to change the dominant media narrative, which has been relentlessly negative about her candidacy for months. Bernie Sanders has his first substantial block of tv time to talk about his policies. In recent months, network news coverage has devoted far more air time to Joe Biden’s possible presidential bid than to Sanders’ actual campaign, which is drawing record crowds.

As the loudest voice for more debates, who has received relatively little media attention so far, Martin O’Malley needs a strong showing tonight, especially since the other debates scheduled before the Iowa caucuses are all happening on weekends, when viewership will likely be low. Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee will also want to break through to a national audience, but they are not building real campaign organizations the way O’Malley has done. Twitter user dcg1114, who posted this guest piece at Bleeding Heartland last month, noted today that the first debate of the 1984 election cycle gave Gary Hart his “first real sign of life.” In particular, that debate helped Hart improve his standing for the Iowa caucuses.

Incidentally, former Iowan and Democratic activist Tommi Makila wrote a blistering commentary contrasting O’Malley’s criticism of the DNC’s “rigged” process with the “rigged” Democratic primaries Makila has observed since moving to Maryland years ago.

Please share any relevant comments in this thread. I’ll update this post later with first thoughts on the debate. UPDATE: My impressions are below.

After the jump I’ve posted videos of the latest commercials Clinton has been running, as well as the debut tv ad the Generation Forward PAC put on the air in Iowa supporting O’Malley.  

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Weekend open thread: Police shootings edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Even knowing how infrequently police officers are held accountable for shooting unarmed black people, I’m stunned two outside reviews determined it was “reasonable” for a Cleveland police officer to use deadly force against twelve-year-old Tamir Rice last year. You don’t have to study that case thoroughly to recognize that “officers rushed Tamir and shot him immediately without assessing the situation in the least.” Police fired twice at short range within seconds, then didn’t offer first aid to the boy who had been holding a pellet gun.

The Washington Post maintains the most complete database on fatal shootings by on-duty police officers, tracking such cases more thoroughly than the federal government. This week Kimberly Kindy published an outstanding investigative report for the Post about how often police departments refuse to release videos of fatal incidents, even though “officers investigated in fatal shootings are routinely given access to body camera footage.” I’ve posted excerpts below, but you should click through to read the whole article.

Kindy discussed at length the accidental shooting of Autumn Steele by a Burlington, Iowa police officer in January of this year, and the fight to gain access to video of the tragedy. Kindy found that of 760 fatal shootings by police across the country so far in 2015, 49 incidents were “captured by body camera,” but “Just 21 of those videos – less than half – have been publicly released. And in several of those cases, the footage, as in Burlington, was severely cut or otherwise edited.” State officials released only a 12-second excerpt from the body cam video of the Steele shooting. I’ve also posted below clips containing background on Steele’s death and her family’s battle with authorities trying to keep relevant information secret.

Public pressure to equip more on-duty police officers with body cams has mounted over the past year, but such programs incur much greater costs than simply purchasing the cameras, Brian Bakst and Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press in February. Departments must pay ongoing software and data storage fees.

“Everybody is screaming, ‘We need body cameras.’ But nobody is saying, where is the money coming from? What are you going to do with all the data? Who is going to manage it?” said Sgt. Jason Halifax of the Des Moines Police Department, which is struggling to identify a funding source for $300,000 to start a program. “Are we going to cut personnel? Are we going to increase taxes?”

One of the most shocking Iowa news stories I read this week appeared on the Ottumwa Evening Post website October 8. Pam Credille recounted how one night in June, a misread license plate led to a police pursuit that “should have never happened” under the Fairfield Police Department’s policy. Officers continued to pursue the car far beyond city limits (again violating department policy), and one officer was tempted to try to “box in” the fleeing vehicle (which would have been another violation). After the car spun into a ditch, Fairfield police officers ran toward it and fired several shots each. It’s just dumb luck neither of the unarmed teenagers inside were injured or killed. Credille’s story contains eight YouTube videos taken from police car dashboard camera footage before, during, and after the shooting incident. The officers involved were not disciplined; Fairfield Police Chief Dave Thomas told Credille, “I believe they responded appropriately and were safe and did a good job in defending themselves.” From what?

The Ottumwa Evening Post report reminded me of Tyler Comstock’s shooting death at the hands of an Ames police officer in November 2013. But in that incident, Comstock’s father initiated the police pursuit of his son by reporting his truck stolen after the 19-year-old took it without permission. As in the case of Autumn Steele, the county attorney determined the officer’s actions to be justified. Comstock’s family has since filed a wrongful death claim. UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user rockm noted in the comments that the city of Ames settled with Comstock’s family “to avoid litigation.”

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Three thoughts on the first episode of the Des Moines Register's "Three Tickets" podcast (updated)

The Des Moines Register launched Jason Noble’s ten-part podcast about the Iowa caucuses last week. You can listen to the "Three Tickets" at the Register’s website or download the episodes through iTunes or Stitcher. After telling his own Iowa caucus "origin story" (hearing Howard Dean sing part of an Outkast song on a campaign bus in 2003), Noble devoted most of the first episode ("Peak Caucus") to the 2008 Democratic contest. Roughly 240,000 Iowans showed up for Democratic precinct caucuses on January 3, mostly to support Barack Obama, John Edwards, or Hillary Clinton. Their numbers more than doubled the roughly 119,000 Iowans who caucused for Republican candidates the same night and nearly doubled the previous record-high Democratic Iowa caucus turnout, set in 2004.

Bleeding Heartland covered the 2008 caucuses extensively. Even so, “Peak Caucus” recalled some moments I had mostly forgotten and got me thinking about other aspects of the campaign I remembered well. So Noble succeeded in motivating this political junkie to listen to the rest of the “Three Tickets” series.

A few reactions to the first episode are after the jump.

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